Iraq

– in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 4:15 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about our operations in Iraq.

"First, let me express my sincere condolences to the families of those UK forces personnel most recently killed in Iraq—on 5 September, Fusilier Donal Anthony Mead and Fusilier Stephen Robert Manning, both from C Company, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; and on 11 September, Major Matthew Bacon of the Intelligence Corps, who was serving as a staff officer with the Headquarters of the Multi-National Division (South East).

"Let us remind ourselves of our objective in Iraq. It is to work with the rest of the international community and the UN, now under UNSCR 1546, to assist the Iraqi people and their elected representatives: first, to establish their own democratic government and institutions; secondly, to build their own security forces to safeguard that democracy; and thirdly, to develop their economy and civil society.

"We are helping the Iraqis to build all three. The terrorists want to impede and destroy all three. That is the battleground.

"I can put this no better than President Talibani did in the Times this morning:

'The battle of Iraq cannot be won by retreat or compromise, but by the vision and determination for which Britain is renowned'.

"And that means, as Prime Minister Jafaari said when I met him recently,

'the presence of multinational forces in Iraq for us is based on need, security need for these forces to support our forces'.

"The UK is in Iraq for as long as we are needed and as long as we need to be there, and no longer.

"The political process in Iraq continues to be on track. Following the elections in January and the establishment of the Constitutional Commission, the Iraqis have now produced a draft constitution that will be the subject of an historic national referendum later this week. Few people thought that we would get to this point. Preparations are also under way for full, democratic national elections in December. These are enormous strides in any context and have been made in spite of the efforts of terrorists to derail Iraq's progress towards a peaceful and democratic future.

"Against this political backdrop, the coalition's top priority is working with the Iraqis to improve the security environment and build the capability of the Iraqi security forces so that they are increasingly able to take responsibility for delivering law and order. In this, we are working not alone but with 27 other nations and under the UNSCR and the UN.

"We are beginning to see real results. More than 190,000 Iraqi security forces have now been trained, and the number of Iraqi units capable of conducting effective counter-insurgency operations is increasing steadily. This means that there are now more Iraqi security forces than there are multinational forces. But, as everyone involved in the process recognises, there are no quick fixes, and building the Iraqi leadership, command and control, logistics and support structures will take more time.

"We have always said that our handover to the Iraqis will be conditional upon their developing their own security capabilities and that we will see the job through until those conditions have been met.

"The conditions that will permit the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi security forces have been defined by the Joint Committee to Transfer Security Responsibility, which, as the House may recall, was formed by the Iraqi Prime Minister over the summer. The basic principles for transfer of security to the Iraqi authorities are based on four broad categories: an assessment of the insurgents' threat level; Iraqi security forces' ability to take on the security task themselves; the capacity of provincial bodies to cope with the changed security environment; and the posture and support available from coalition forces. We expect the committee's criteria to be confirmed soon. Thereafter, assessments will be made by the Iraqis themselves to determine which areas of Iraq are ready to transfer to Iraqi control.

"We therefore stand by the strategy that we have maintained up to now, which sets out the conditions under which we will hand security to the Iraqis and begin to draw down our own forces. I want to emphasise again that we will stay in Iraq until the job is done and that we will not make significant changes to the UK's force posture in Iraq until the coalition partners and, in particular, the Iraqis are confident that the conditions are right. That was, is and will remain our position.

"The biggest obstacle to our leaving Iraq is now the actions of the terrorists themselves. Terrorist activity only delays our leaving; it does not hasten our leaving Iraq.

"Turning to the security situation in Multinational Division (South East), honourable Members will have seen the graphic television pictures of events in Basra on 19 September. Two soldiers in MND(SE) were arrested by the Iraqi police service and held at an Iraqi police station in Basra. We agreed with the Governor of Basra and with the Chief of Police to collect the personnel from the police station but, as we prepared to do so, it became clear that the two soldiers had been handed to local militia.

"The decision to mount an operation to enter the police station was then taken. That was a decision I fully supported at the time and still do.

"I am pleased to be able to tell the House that, while only one of the soldiers injured on that day is still receiving medical treatment, the others have returned to their units. They all have my thanks and admiration for a job well done, as I believe they have that of the whole House.

"The fact that we were able to mount an extremely complex operation in defence of our own soldiers which led to the successful rescue of two soldiers held hostage by militiamen, without firing a single shot, is a credit to our forces. I can also confirm to the House that the Iraqis have themselves withdrawn the warrants that they issued later that week for the arrest of the two British soldiers concerned.

"I would not wish to downplay the challenges which remain. The arrest of 12 suspects last week, for instance, demonstrates our determination to deal robustly with those implicated in improvised explosive device attacks—bomb attacks, to the layman—against UK forces. I can confirm that weapons, and other equipment, were found in these raids.

"Nevertheless, serious as they were, we need to keep these events in perspective: the rest of Multinational Division (South East) was unaffected. Basra has remained largely calm since the incident, and we have been working hard to restore relations with Basra council so that we can again work together for the good of the people in Basra.

"Turning to troop roulement in Iraq, I very much regret the speculative and often wildly misleading reports about troop increments which have appeared in the press since we last met here. Let me therefore turn to the details of the next routine troop rotation of UK Forces in Multinational Division (South East), which begins this month. The lead UK formation in Iraq, currently 12 Mechanised Brigade, will be replaced by 7th Armoured Brigade, which will take over command of UK forces in early November.

"In addition to 7th Armoured Brigade's Headquarters and Signals squadron, the following major units will be deployed to replace those currently in Iraq: 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Battalion The Highlanders, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, 9th and 12th Royal Lancers, 1st Battalion The Kings Own Royal Border Regiment, the Scots Dragoon Guards, 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, the 32nd Engineer Regiment and the 2nd Logistics Support Regiment. The Territorial Army units involved in this roulement are a single company from the 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and a composite company from the West Midlands Regiment and the Royal Welch Regiment.

"During what will be a very busy period of troop deployments, I have also decided to deploy one company from the Cyprus-based theatre reserve force to relieve the rotating troops of some routine security tasks—static security or guard duty. A company of 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers will deploy for a few weeks while the rotation lasts.

"The total number of troops in Iraq following the deployment of 7th Armoured Brigade will be around 8,000. This is about 500 fewer than at present, reflecting the closure of two small bases in Basra, the transfer of some training tasks to the Iraqi security forces and structural differences between the two brigades. These are relatively minor adjustments, however, and will not affect activities being carried out by UK forces.

"We will continue to build Iraqi security capability, and will continue to keep the security situation under review during the referendum and through the elections later this year. The Iraqi security forces themselves will lead on security for the referendum, with our support. In MND (South East) we have been assisting the Iraqi Army's 10th Division to ensure they are prepared for this task. Earlier this year, I visited 10th Division itself.

"This summer has seen much positive progress in Iraq, despite the worst intentions of the terrorists. The production of an Iraqi constitution written by democratically elected Iraqi politicians on behalf of their own people is a huge step forward. We have no intention of undermining this historic achievement by abandoning Iraq before it is ready to stand on its own two feet, or before its democratically elected politicians tell us this is the case. Of course we are sure to encounter more obstacles, particularly in the run-up to the elections in December, when a minority of terrorists, and some from outside Iraq, will almost certainly seek to disrupt Iraq's progress towards security and democracy.

"The recent discovery and recovery of more than 160 bodies from a mass grave in the Al Muthanna province in MND (South East) is a sober reminder of the horrors that the Iraqi people have had to face in the past, and the reasons why we must continue our efforts to support them in building a better future, embracing democracy and free from tyranny. And so, while we do not want to be in Iraq any longer than absolutely necessary, we will not be deflected from our task. We have made a commitment to the Iraqi people, and it is important that we honour that commitment and see our task through. That is what we will do".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, Defence, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips 4:31 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. At this time, our thoughts are with our troops serving in Iraq and their families. On behalf of these Benches, I also send my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

The course of events in Iraq that has made this Statement to Parliament necessary is serious and dangerous. Our troops are doing a fantastic job there, and I congratulate Brigadier John Lorimer on placing the safety and wellbeing of his troops above all else. As the Minister said earlier today, the two SAS soldiers were freed without a shot being fired.

We are often told by the Secretary of State and the Minister that we should stay in Iraq "until the job is done". The critical question is how they define "the job". If the situation is improving, and we really are gaining the upper hand over the insurgents and successfully training indigenous Iraqi security forces, it should be possible to begin to set out a timetable; not for a final exit—that would be unwise—but for the beginning of the drawing down of our commitment in that part of Iraq for which Her Majesty's Government have accepted responsibility. Meanwhile, the risk of civil war there remains. Will the Minister give assurances that contingency plans are in place to prevent British troops getting caught up in the middle of a civil war?

The US military has increased its forces to 152,000—that is 14,000 above the normal level—to provide extra security for the referendum on 15 October. What have we been able to do—or are we too overstretched to provide extra troops? I understand that the Royal Highland Fusiliers are to be deployed for the third time. Are they up to strength? Has their rifle company, which was stranded in Jordan for lack of air transport, been recovered? Will the Minister clarify the position of other UK forces that have completed their tours of duty but were also stranded there for lack of air transport home, and of those troops waiting to be deployed to Iraq stranded in England? Is this not a graphic illustration of the degree of overstretch in which our Armed Forces are now operating as a result of government cutbacks?

Will the Minister also give the House a report on whether our forces have been provided with a sufficient number of helicopters to meet the new security arrangements for moving our troops in the light of increased attrition from roadside bombing? There is real evidence to substantiate the Prime Minister's assertion that explosive devices that have recently killed or maimed British troops have originated from Iran. What action has been taken to address this dangerous development?

Finally, there are reports that the Attorney-General is due to go to Iraq. I understand he will be visiting some of our troops there. I hope that he will return with a greater sense of reality as to what life is like for them. Can the Minister tell the House what is the objective of the Attorney-General's visit?

Following the important debate on 14 July on the Armed Forces chain of command, a subject with repercussions for the morale and operational effectiveness of our troops in Iraq, the Attorney-General wrote to all noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords who spoke in the debate. I responded to him on 20 July with some detailed questions and sent a reminder letter on 9 September. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Attorney-General has put him in a position to respond to the points I raised? If not, I would be very obliged if he could speak to the Attorney-General.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 4:36 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I too am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place and for sending me an advance copy. The sympathy also of these Benches goes to the families of the British servicemen who have been killed and to the families of the many American servicemen who have died since we last discussed Iraq, in the summer. Nor would we wish to forget the increasingly large number of Iraqis killed and maimed in the continuing violence. We are now seeing 40 fatalities a day.

We all agree that this is a key week for the Iraqi people as they are asked to vote on the draft constitution. I am pleased that a consistent definition of what "voter" will be in this referendum has been decided, as it looked as though that was going to cause yet more trouble. But on the Minister's assertion that the political process is on track, can he assure us that he has a contingency plan in the event that the constitution is rejected, which must be one possible outcome?

There remains the question of what the United Kingdom forces can achieve. The Minister listed his three objectives. From these Benches, we have on numerous occasions drawn attention to the need for a proper strategy which couples the security process to economic and political development. Yet the continuing cry in this Statement, as in previous ones, is that the Government's strategy is to stay there for as long as the Iraqis want. Last week, I listened to President Talabani at Chatham House, and he said that he thought he would need us for one or two years. Vice-President Cheney seems to have a longer timescale in mind—he tends to talk in decades. Can the Minister say whether President Talabani confirmed his assessment of one to two years in his talks last week with the Prime Minister?

If we lack a coherent strategy for the way forward, then our troops really will be in difficulty. Can the Minister tell us the relative priority in the tasking at the moment? How many of our 8,000 troops are tasked primarily with training security forces? How many are on border patrol? How many are on security duties with patrolling as their primary activity? How many are on infrastructure projects?

Then, there is the issue of the operational tempo, about which we have all worried in the past. Can the Minister give us some idea of how the continuing strain of Iraq is affecting retention in the regular forces and in the reserves. The Chief of the Defence Staff was quoted in a newspaper interview this month as worrying about the effect of Iraq on recruiting. Does the Minister share that worry? Will deployments to Afghanistan be adjusted if the Iraq situation deteriorates?

Are we doing everything possible to support our troops on these difficult tours? When repeating the Statement the Minister did not mention NATO. In the past we have heard that NATO was helping us in all of this. How is that going?

The Statement dealt in some detail with the complex rotation plot for our troops, and we understand that there will be resulting small fluctuations in numbers. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, there are reports of a shortage of air transport aircraft to return those who are due to come back to the UK. It is intensely demoralising to be expecting to return and then to be left in a transit area for days because of aircraft unavailability or unserviceability. We cannot, of course, risk our troops in an aircraft where the defensive aids are not working, but has the MoD thought through alternatives such as organising land convoys to Kuwait and using civil aircraft from there?

The progressive increase in the level of violence on all sides suggests that we do not have our strategy right. The UK forces will do their best, but there is a danger of escalation without end. After the freezing out of the United Kingdom from US planning during the Coalition Provisional Authority period, can the Minister assure your Lordships that the US is now listening to the United Kingdom's advice? Can he offer some prospect that the different counter-insurgency doctrines of the various forces currently in Iraq will be harmonised to make for a more coherent approach?

Finally, will the Minister ensure that the long-term viability of the British Armed Forces remains one of his key concerns in planning future operational tasks and the funding of the equipment programme?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 4:40 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I thank noble Lords opposite for their constructive criticism of our activities in Iraq. I know they share our desire to see Iraq develop into a stable democratic anchor within the Middle East. The issue is how best to achieve that.

I turn to the specific questions, and start with the last one from the noble Lord, Lord Garden. My reply is: absolutely. In everything I do, my focus is to ensure the long-term viability of our Armed Forces.

How do we define the job? It is clear that our task is to move forward to an environment where the political control of Iraq is under the Iraqi people; to move forward to the point where the Iraqi security forces can take responsibility for their own security in order to protect and serve the democratic government; and to move forward to the point where the improved economic and social development of Iraq is absolutely clear so that the benefits of democracy are clear to the Iraqi people. Those are objectives for which there is no rigid time-line. It is not helpful, as I think was said recently by President Talabani, to set out a rigid time-line. That plays into the hands of the people we are fighting. We have set out clear conditions under which we will be able to withdraw and that is as far as we can go.

The roulement into Iraq which will take place shortly will slightly decrease the number of forces to about 8,000 after the reserve force has returned. We believe that that is the appropriate level, taking into account the recent handover of a number of camps to Iraqi control, including, for example, Camp Chindit.

The noble Lord mentioned the Royal Highland Fusiliers, who have been stranded in Jordan, and the general point about troop transport. We recognise the vital importance to morale and not least to our operational capability of being able to move our troops. The Tristar aircraft which we use are old and it is very important to replace them as soon as possible. We have had operational difficulty, as the noble Lord mentions, with defences on the aircraft. Of course, we will take no risk with our personnel in those transfers. However, I am pleased to report to the House that the issues relating to those aircraft have now been resolved and that there are no stranded forces as a result. We are working hard on this issue and I am spending a lot of time on it.

Noble Lords mentioned the issue of helicopters, which are absolutely essential to our ability to function fully in Iraq and in other theatres such as Afghanistan. We have enough helicopters, but they carry a significant burden—a matter to which we are giving significant attention. In early September we increased the number of helicopters available in theatre in Iraq.

The noble Lord mentioned particular devices, possible Iranian involvement and the action we have taken. We have seen such devices before, and this experience indicates their source. They are similar to devices that have come from Hezbollah. That concerns us, but further work needs to be done in this area. As I said, we have come up against such devices before.

I have seen for myself our excellent capability in countermeasures. Of course, I cannot go into further detail, but I can reassure the House that we are fully on top of that.

On the Attorney-General's visit to Iraq, noble Lords will understand that, for security reasons, we do not comment on the movements of senior personnel, but I take on board the points made by the noble Lord in his letter. I will follow them up and write to him. On contingency plans for rejection, it is clear that if the Iraqi people so decide in a referendum on a no vote, we move forward within the period under the transitional law. It will then be up to the assembly to advance future consideration of a constitution.

I am not able to discuss the detail of operations. In the Statement, we described the roulement of forces and the forces that will be going to Iraq in an exposition, but it is not appropriate for me to get into the detail of what is the relative balance of those forces or types of operation. It is true, as the noble Lord mentioned, and as the Chief of the Defence Staff commented, that Iraq is having an effect on recruitment. However, we are working hard on that; we need suitable action in place; we are not complacent about it. We recognise an issue in that area and are working on it.

Going further on the question of air transport, the noble Lord asked whether the Ministry of Defence has alternatives when we have problems with our Tristar aircraft. Yes, of course we have alternatives. The problem in this case was that our alternatives involved the use of chartered aircraft. We could not obtain democratic clearance in the timescale we needed for those chartered aircraft to pass through the required countries. Therefore, we judged it better to focus on fixing the technical problem relating to the aircraft concerned.

We have a coherent approach. We have clear contingency plans for the situation that we face in Iraq. As I said earlier, we believe that, whereas the situation in Iraq is challenging, our forces are on top of it. We focus on long-term viability in our planning of operations; the recent roulement that we announced today reflects that.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench 4:47 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, if I heard the Minister right, he mentioned that the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State visited the 10th Iraqi division—I hope that I am correct. Yet he made no comment on its readiness for operations, its state of training, whether it has the communications to do the job and so on. Is it infiltrated by the militia, like certain parts of the police? Does the Minister know the state of that Iraqi division?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, when I visited Iraq in the summer, I had the clear impression that we are making progress in the training of the Iraqi security forces. On the 10th division, it is a small but positive indication that it has taken over responsibility for the first camp, Camp Chindit, as I mentioned. We have stated that we are making good progress towards our targets for the total number of Iraqi security forces, having just breached the total of 190,000, but we should not put too much focus on absolute numbers. The noble Viscount is absolutely right to focus on capability. We need to be clear that we are developing the real capability of those forces, such that we are increasing the numbers of Iraqi forces who can take over full responsibility without having to be accompanied and mentored by our forces.

On the noble Viscount's question about infiltration, my understanding is that no, we do not have the degree of problem with infiltration of the army that we do with certain small elements of the Iraqi police service.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, the Statement helpfully repeated by the Minister inevitably concentrates on the military situation and the deployment of troops. Perhaps I may remind the House that, if I have my geography correct, Iraq has six neighbours—sovereign states. Can the Minister tell us anything about what we—or the Iraqi government—are doing to discuss with those neighbours the restoration of stability in Iraq and the avoidance of chaos? All those governments have a clear interest in trying to promote the stability of Iraq and varying interests in using their influence on the government of Iraq and on others who are causing trouble in Iraq. The Minister referred to our working with the United Nations, but can he tell us anything about our working particularly with Iraq's neighbours and with the Arab League?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I agree that this is a complex situation. The position of Iraq, in providing the opportunity to establish a stable, democratic state in the Middle East, is of real concern to its neighbours. That is part of our ongoing ambassadorial relations. There is a clear sense of the need to support Iraq through its journey towards democracy. We must support Iraq, not just as regards the security situation, which the noble Lord so rightly highlighted, but also its political development. Some elements of the constitution are striking in terms of the progress that Iraq is making politically, not least the role of women that is being set out in the constitution.

The strength of democracy in Iraq and the leadership that it can show to its neighbours needs to be underpinned by the democracy delivering results for the citizens of Iraq. Here, our work on reconstruction has rebuilt 3,000 schools and the first civilian flights are now going into Basra airport. That demonstrates to Iraqis and their neighbours that we are making a positive difference.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the noble Lord give us information on attacks by insurgents using suicide and roadside bombs on untrained personnel or recruits to the Iraqi Army and police, which appear to be very effective targets? For example, are we helping to set up a proper secure area for recruitment to the Iraqi police and army? That is important because it must have a very bad effect on morale.

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. However, morale does not seem to be affected, which underpins the commitment that the Iraqi people have to the progress that they are making. There is no shortage of people wishing to join the Iraqi security forces, particularly the army. None the less, we are, of course, doing everything that we can. We are supplying equipment and giving training and mentoring to those forces. We are passing on experience that we have gained, for example, in previous operations in Northern Ireland, in order to do everything that we can as regards tactics and equipment to overcome the threat presented by roadside bombs.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister to return to the extremely significant question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. In particular, he referred to the neighbours of Iraq, many of which, as the Minister knows well, have very close associations with certain parts of Iraq—obviously, Iran with the Shi'ite areas, Saudi Arabia with the Sunnis, and so forth. Given those interests, which could be very divisive with regard to the effort to establish a united and democratic Iraq, as the Minister has clearly indicated would be the wish of all of us, has there been any attempt by Her Majesty's Government or the government of the United States to bring together the governments of those neighbours to consider their relationship to a newly developing Iraq after the constitutional issue has been settled? Are Her Majesty's Government active in trying to involve those governments in a United Nations outcome that might give greater stability to the future of Iraq than seems presently to be the case?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I can confirm that Her Majesty's Government are making full efforts in this regard. It is part of the ongoing series of discussions we have undertaken with Iraq's neighbours through the process of political development in Iraq. I should stress that all efforts are being made here. Indeed, it was my own experience during a recent visit to Turkey that this is being done very effectively by Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and, through him, the Secretary of State for their efforts to sustain our servicemen and servicewomen in what they are doing in Iraq. I do not ask the noble Lord to speculate on when they will eventually be withdrawn, but as someone with no military training or background, I suspect that good training is just as important as good logistics and equipment. At that point, will the Government ensure that it is still possible for training to be provided by the United Kingdom and some of the other 27 nations that are helping on an ongoing basis to sustain the Iraqi Government as they face the difficult task before them?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point, in that this process will take time. The type of training and mentoring we are providing will evolve as the Iraqi security forces themselves develop. One can imagine that in the future, through its training establishments the United Kingdom will be able to provide further training. In Basra I saw for myself the real commitment of young majors in the British Army to the support of members of the Iraqi security forces in their development. The focus is on the development of leadership, logistics, and command and control. While the basics are being put in place, it is also about developing capability. That is something to which we are committed over the long term.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, given that some troops now have to return to Iraq for the third time and the consequences for recruitment that the Minister has confirmed, and given the recurrence of grave public disorder in Northern Ireland and the consequential pressure being put on the PSNI, was not the decision not to relocate but to disband four battalions a misjudgment which the Government now regret?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

No, my Lords, that was not a misjudgment. The reorganisation of the structure of the British Army is central to its modernisation so that it can meet the threats it faces both in terms of expeditionary warfare as set out in the Strategic Defence Review and the need to meet ongoing commitments such as that in Northern Ireland. We see the reorganisation as central to delivering a modern and effective armed service that can meet the situations that exist in the 21st century.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, can my noble friend say a little more about the Government's thinking on why the situation in MND (South East) deteriorated in the way it did? For those of us who have visited Iraq and have seen the strong relationship between our troops and the local people, that was a very disturbing development over the course of the summer. It also points up absolutely what he said about the development of civil society and strengthening the relationships within it. While he has said quite a lot about security and the development of political institutions, can he develop a little more the position on the economic questions and the development of civil society that will enable those relationships to gather strength over the coming months?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend who, as a Minister responsible for the Middle East, did so much to promote our policy in Iraq. She is right to highlight our approach with our international partners and its effect on the development of Iraq's civil society, which is key to the long-term development of that country. I do not think that we should overplay the incidents that took place on 19 September, which involved a crowd of 200 people. The Iraq police service helped us to control that crowd. Small elements of the Iraq police service, particularly those related to the Jameat police station, were a problem, but as I have said I think that the grip our Armed Forces have on the situation was shown in that they were able to deal with it so effectively.

But as my noble friend has so rightly said, the long-term key is the economic development of Iraq. Economic growth over the past year in GDP terms is encouraging and the Iraqi dinar has kept its place in relative parity to the dollar.

I have mentioned the number of hospitals. We should also consider the number of schools that have been rebuilt and the fact that you can go to certain places in downtown Basra where people can now get water on the second floor of their buildings.

None the less, we should recognise that after a country has been through literally decades of underinvestment and corruption, these things will not happen overnight. As supplies of electricity and water come back on stream, the demand will accelerate and, as the company is growing so fast, outstrip the speed at which such developments can take place. There is therefore a mismatch at present between the expectations of the local people of what we can achieve and the reality of what has been possible in the time that we have been there. Nevertheless, there are real, solid examples of the progress that has been made, and we must stick with it. We shall continue this investment to deliver progress on the ground.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister comment a little further on the Reserve Forces and the amount of support being given? He has already told us about the support that will be given to the 7th Armoured Brigade. However, it is vitally important that in the future—in the medium term and further on—roulement units go at full strength. We know that they are under strength in this country as they stand and that they have to be supported by the Reserve Forces. Can the Minister give the House some idea of how sustainable that will be in the medium and longer term?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the role of our Reserve Forces is crucial to the roulement, as I have said, and in particular to the process by which the forces take over in the coming month. I shall give the House some idea of the level: as at 8 September, there were 650 reservists deployed in Iraq, carrying out a range of duties relating to matters such as medical support, force protection and individual reinforcements to units. The need for reservists to continue to deploy is part of normal business for our Reserve Forces. Their deployment will ease the burden on the troops that are there of routine security tasks. It is essential to our operational strategy in theatre.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, can the Minister update the House on the activities of NATO troops in the training of Iraqi personnel? Does he feel that the balance is right between the training carried out in Iraq and without Iraq?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

Yes, my Lords, we believe that the balance is right. As I have said, the key focus is on the development of capability, and we now have some 190,000 trained Iraqi forces. It is about developing that capability over time, and that is best done in theatre. We also have Iraqi officers here in the United Kingdom at our training establishments, and clearly that is important. But there is no substitute for the development of characteristics such as leadership and, importantly, logistics and command and control, and that needs to be done in theatre.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the British contingent, at a force of 8,000 military personnel, is the second largest overseas contribution after the United States to the coalition forces? Can he tell us which is the next largest and, indeed, what is the total of non-Iraqi, non-American and non-British coalition forces?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I can confirm that we are the second largest. My understanding is that the next largest after us is the Italian force. I shall confirm the details for which the noble Lord has asked, and I will write to him giving the specific totals for each of the countries contributing to the coalition forces. A total of eight countries contribute to the coalition in the area for which we are responsible in MND (South East).